Written by Neil Bebber / Directed by Tom Cullen/Alex Vlahos
tactileBOSCH Gallery, Cardiff.
Fri 30 July
words: Adam Corner
Being carted into the back of a blacked-out mini-bus, blindfolded and then bathed in the unsettling beam of a powerful floodlight sounds more like a police raid than a play. But this daring introduction to Straight, Undeb Theatre’s first full length show, set the tone for the rest of the evening. Engrossing, captivating, and shot-through with a dark voyeuristic appeal, Straight was a compelling piece of theatre from a company full of fertile ideas.
Set in the suffocatingly small attic space of the tactileBosch gallery in Llandaf, Straight tells the story of a pair of brothers, hiding from the Great Unknown and bound by fear and mutual dependence. The opening scene finds the elder boy frantically concealing a weapon, as his brother hides obediently in the bedroom. But with precious little back story or context provided to anchor expectations, a refreshingly wide space is provided for the audience to fill in the gaps. It’s a brave move that pays off – with so much left unsaid, Straight is able to broach heavyweight themes without ever getting bogged down by clunky details or specifics.
The elder of the two brothers employs all the tools of emotional manipulation to keep the younger brother in check, concocting wild stories about the world beyond the boarded-up attic window, dishing out physical punishment and even stoking pre-adolescent sexual tension between the pair of them. Confused and intimidated, the younger brother is forced to comply. But by the end of the story, it is the elder boy who has become the victim, as his younger brother makes a very symbolic and satisfying break for freedom.
Stylistically, Straight has the claustrophobic appeal of a psycho-drama, an effect that is magnified by the literally claustrophobic setting. The audience are herded between the two rooms of the attic, no two people getting quite the same view of the show. In a theatre, having your line of sight obscured by a window frame would be an irritation. In the sweaty, sawdust-infused setting of the tactileBosch attic, it was the perfect complement to the dialogue: things left unsaid, things left unseen.